What are young children telling us? - Think about school segregation from a totally different angle

The Serbian member of EPA, Pomoc Deci organised a very interesting event in Belgrade in the middle of September 2016 with participants from Balkan countries, Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro as well as Northern Ireland. While the event had an early childhood focus, EPA was offered the opportunity to give our views on parental involvement and child participation with special focus on peace-building, as well as to hold a totally interactive workshop on active European citizenship on school level. This was also a great opportunity to pilot our ELICIT+ training material in an exciting context, the Balkans.

The most interesting presentation of the event was by Prof. Bojana Breneselovic from Belgrade University. The title of the conference was borrowed from her, and she made us change lenses and see segregation from a totally different angle. After listening to the presentation, you are likely to have realised that the younger your child is, the more likely it is they go to a segregated school. But to prove that, you need to understand what segregation really means according to the Oxford English Dictionary ‘the action or state of setting someone or something apart from others’.

First of all the vast majority of schools from early childhood to secondary have an age and spacious segregation policy in place. The children are assigned to homogeneous age groups, sometimes even offered facilities fully scaled down to their size (with small sinks and toilets, not even one of adult size in view). The movement of children in the schools are very often limited, even regulated to be limited. They are forbidden to enter certain parts of the building, certain rooms, parts of the yard. Sending a child to a group for smaller children is used as punishment in some cases.

Social segregation is also in place in schools. Children are allowed to meet a very limited number of adults in the school context, often from the same social class, and very often nearly exclusively women. Gender segregation does not end with the teachers being female, but also by arranging certain toys as girls’ or boys’.

The exclusion of parents, the fact that they cannot be in the building or the classroom anytime is also considered a form of segregation. Closed school doors (very often with the pretext of safety) artificially separates the world of children and adults.

When organising school activities there are two more regular types of segregation. One being a segregation of activities into learning and play, the learning through play element is often missing. There is also a segregation by power, in who chooses what and when the child is supposed to learn.

As a result, practice is more often than not there is a huge discrepancy between intentions and practice of schools, resulting in independence, tolerance, creativity and curiosity are replaced by compliance and obedience, surely not a way to educate active European citizens.

EPA contribution to the event:
Parental involvement and child participation for peace-building

The UNCRC gives all responsibility and all duties for bringing up your children to parents, while ensuring the right of children to have a meaningful way to participate in decisions on their own lives. This means that all institutions offering services to families, especially cr̬ches, kindergartens and schools have to offer ways for both parents and children to be part of decision-making processes. Participation in school (or other institutions) is a way of being an active citizen. It helps you understand why it is important to be there and be part of decision-making up to national or even European level. At the same time school should be an ultimate safe environment for this, which means it has to offer a form of participation that feels safe Рwhere you understand the rules and what is at stake, and you also have support to understand your duties and the rules. It is active citizens only who can ensure peace, by creating an inclusive atmosphere based on mutual respect of all players, and this is also easier and more hands-on in a local, safe context, the school. The keynote offered a framework for this from relevant EU policy recommendations to local good practice, together with examples of good practices.

Active citizenship by mutual learning

Following up the keynote on participation of parents and children, there was a possibility join our ELICIT+ project,  a new training course developed for teachers, parents and children developing their active citizenship skills together. The aim of ELICIT+ is to develop knowledge about active citizenship and European democracy, raising awareness of the importance of participation in democratic processes and developing skills for active, participative European citizens. Raising awareness about European democracy and skills development around that can support the democratic operation of schools and families and as a final goal can help schools and families in raising children of the present to become active European citizens of the future.
The special organisation of mixed groups of professional and non-professional educators, school management and children is aiming at building mutual respect and mutual learning, a sound basis for peaceful living together.

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